by: Wes Ishmael

Hooter hadn't seen Rowdy Finster since a couple of conventions ago.

They first got to know each other years before when Rowdy lived in Texas. It was either at some jackpot show or via a regional alumni basketball game. Hooter played for the Apache Flats Bobcats; Rowdy played for the Red River Rattlers.

Hooter couldn't remember which introduction came first. All he knew was that Rowdy threw a mean loop and had elbows the size of hub caps. At least that's how he remembered his ribs feeling after some of those hard-wood encounters.

After Rowdy married Brenda, he moved to the other side of the river, just north of Ardmore, where her people were from. It was one of those friendships that picked up where it left off, no matter how much time in between.

Rowdy was smoking a cigarette outside the main entrance, looking like he'd been on the wrong end of a pistol whipping or bad horse wreck: eyes swollen, knuckles bruised, left foot in a cast, arms draped across a pair of dilapidated crutches.

"What in the world happened to you?"

Rowdy took a long draw on his roll-your-own.

"Well sir, I had me a seat on this slick little brown pony called Dime Store Gyp. Rockin' chair ride all the way until I shifted a hip, lost a stirrup, bucked over the off side and got hung in the other stirrup."

"Dang," said Hooter.

"Yep, if that Walmart janitor hadn't come along to unplug ol' Gyp, there's no telling what might could have happened."

It was an old joke, but told right, it got Hooter every time. After he got done laughing, his gaze asked what really happened.

"Like most dustups, it wasn't near as glamorous as you'd like to recall," said Rowdy. "I'd like to call it a haying accident, which it was sort of, but we'll leave it at that."

"Fair enough. At least it looks like you'll heal. So, besides that, how are things?"

Rowdy took another puff. "Actually, Hooter, things couldn't be much better. The family is swell, the cows are doing better than I reckoned and the contracting business is picking up steam, believe it or not."

Far as Hooter knew, Rowdy had always furnished some roping and cutting stock, but the last few years he'd added a new twist, partnering with some clients to background and grow cattle at their places, keeping stock fresh along the way.

"Good for you. How are the girls?" Hooter asked.

"Brenda, she's as pretty as ever, even sweeter and still puts up with me. Our Maggie, just as sharp as her mama, and playing ball like a demon. She's a senior this year, can you believe it?"

Hooter couldn't. Last time he'd seen Maggie she was a little girl, running poles on a big buckskin gelding and winning.

"I bet they came undone when they saw you like this."

"Yeah, then about lynched me when they figured out how it happened."

Hooter hadn't intended on coaxing his friend into a corner, but it turned out that way.

"OK, I'll tell you, but you got to promise to be kind," said Rowdy.

Hooter grinned. They both knew that was asking too much of the other one, depending on the story.

"I don't know if you remember that old barn that we refurbished."

"Of course I remember. Nobody could forget if they'd seen it."

The barn in question was massive and iconic. Down below were stalls on either side, a tack room, granary and small shop. Plenty of room in between to store some equipment. The hay loft had doors at both ends, complete with block and tackle.

"And you know how we put up a couple of basketball hoops in the loft, for when there was room to play?"

"Yep." In fact, Hooter and Rowdy had played one-on-one up there a couple of times. Hooter could still hear the hollow reverberation with every bounce of the ball, the haze of dust glowing all around, how slick the floor was.

"Well, I hadn't been up there in a while. It was a nice day, so I opened the doors. I got to sweeping up and noticed an old ball laying there. There wasn't any air in it of, course, but..."

"But, you had to see if you could get close."

"Yeah. Like I say, the ball was plumb flat, but I absolutely drained the first one from clear back, then the next one and the next one. So then, I tried some bank shots, which weren't nearly as effective."

"I can see how that might be."

"So then I tried a couple of lay-ups. Same problem, without air in the ball. Then I remembered..."

"The air walk," they both said in unison.

It was at an alumni tournament where both played for their respective teams. This particular game was between Hooter's Bobcats and a team just outside of Vernon.

To this day, Hooter didn't know if it was planned or dumb luck. His Bobcats were down by one point with time running out. Hooter inbounded the ball to Delmar Jacobs at about midcourt. Delmar was tall with longer arms, and lots ganglier back in those days. Just as Hooter threw the ball, he saw Lonnie Johnson ahead of Delmar -- at about the free throw line -- go down on both knees and hands, like he he'd been gut punched, which would not have been out of the question in those games. Delmar dribbled twice, planted his foot on Lonnie's back and rose like an eagle toward the basket -- stuffed the ball on his way down and hung on to the rim for good measure. Despite protests from the opposing side, none of the refs saw exactly what happened, only that it was a breathtaking flight.

"So, I saw a hay bale and got to thinking," Rowdy explained.

Hooter suspected he knew where this was leading, but had no idea how it could.

"I put the bale real close, see? Gauged how much I'd need to jump. Then I'd scoot the bale back a bit, you get the idea."


"I had it lined up perfect. Took off at a dead run, or at least as much of one as I have left, hit that bale right in the middle."


"And, I didn't account for the angle. Must have been too steep. That bale took off like a ball bearing on ice. I still remember seeing the bottom of the net go by as I went out the door. You know, it's farther down than it looks."

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